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Queens Chronicle

Clarke remembered by the community

Arby’s owner was liked because of his kindness and generosity

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2019 10:30 am

Thomas Clarke became the owner of the Arby’s at 69-16 Metropolitan Ave. in 2005. Between then and his unexpected death in his sleep on Dec. 28 at the age of 63, he became a popular figure in the community.

He entrenched himself in the area right away after the Arby’s replaced what had been Niederstein’s restuarant.

“He knew the neighborhood was mourning the loss of the iconic Niederstein’s,” said Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who was a civic activist at the time. “He wanted to pay tribute to the restaurant and asked me for photos of the area and Niederstein’s.”

Arby’s has old photos of Middle Village and Maspeth displayed. In 2013, the Middle Village Kiwanis Club recognized Clarke, honoring him with the Business Person of the Year award at its first community awards ceremony.

Al Gentile, president of the Kiwanis Club, said at the time, “Clarke is a successful entrepreneur, but it is his volunteer work and generosity that really stand out.”

Clarke provided free lunch for a Special Olympics event at Queens College. He also helped the State Parks Department feed volunteers at a Blue Angels event.

“As a stakeholder in our community, Tom respected the neighborhood, attending several town meetings and community events,” Holden said. “Over the years Tom Clarke contributed to countless events and charities in the neighborhoods he served.”

Mike Bilski, a member of the Queens Veterans Day Committee, remembered Clarke’s generosity.

“When the Vietnam Wall was in Juniper Valley Park Arby’s supplied 50 complete lunches one day,” Bilski posted on Facebook. “During the Queens Veterans Parade for four years he would give out water and cookies to everyone as they passed Arby’s.”

Another poster commented, “Tom also supplied food for the annual Slocum memorial service. He was a wonderful man who gave to the community.”

Clarke also helped students at PS 177, The Robin Sue Ward School for Exceptional Children, a school for students with disabilities whose main location is in Fresh Meadows, where Clark owned another Arby’s.

“We do have other organizations that come in to assist but not like Tom Clarke,” school Principal Kathy Posa told the Chronicle in 2016.

Clarke let students, supervised by a teacher or an assistant, work at Burger King and Arby’s locations he owned, allowing them to put toys in meal bags among other tasks in an attempt to help the handicapped students develop practical work skills.

Clarke donated kids’ meals, ice cream and soda from his restaurants to the school’s annual holiday party.

He also supported youth baseball and basketball teams in the area.

On Facebook, the Juniper Park Civic Association posted, “He was a true friend to our organization and will be missed. Mr. Clarke died suddenly and unexpectedly but peacefully in his sleep last night. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.”

The cause of his death was not immediately made clear.

His daughter, Andrea, said Clarke believed the best way of helping people was by giving them a job. Many of his employees were immigrants who were working in the country for the first time. He encouraged them to learn English and even paid for and drove them to classes.

Clarke, who owned eight restaurants, four of them in Queens, sponsored numerous employees for citzenship before laws changed after Sept. 11, 2001. He also hired many people with felony criminal records and promoted them to manager positions. Clarke helped employees buy their first cars and first homes.

According to an interview with Taco John’s, a franchise he brought to New York, Clarke was a CPA by trade and had been a corporate comptroller for large manufacturing companies. As manufacturing moved away from the northeast, he began opening restaurant franchises.

He got into the business with Burger King after he saved enough money to buy half a restaurant and then grew one by one. In the early 2000s he went with Arby’s because people wanted deli food.

Other fast-food chains specialized in burgers but his Arby’s focused more on serving a variety of sandwiches and wraps.

Clarke told the Chronicle in 2016, “If people taste the food and I’m selling it cheaper than Burger King or McDonald’s, they will actually like it. But the idea is how do you get the person who’s used to going to McDonald’s to say, ‘Let me try something new?’ But once people try the food they’re like OK! It’s like real Italian.”

In an email, Andrea wrote, “His was indeed a life well-lived.”

The Brookville, LI resident was married to his wife, Olivia, for 40 years.

They had two children, Andrea, 36, and Joe, 33. Clarke also had a grandson, Thomas, who is 19 months old. He is also survived by his mother, Veronica, mother-in-law, Elena, father-in-law, Joseph, six siblings and 25 nieces and nephews.

He was buried at All Faiths Cemetary in Middle Village.

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